Over / Under: Forrest Gump
by Matt Goldberg
March 29, 2008
For an introduction to this weekly retrospective column titled Over / Under written by Matt Goldberg, please visit the first post in the series.
"Stupid is as stupid does."
This oft-repeated rhetorical comeback could not be truer when applied to the film Forrest Gump. I've made enemies out of friends and feuds from family when trying to explain that not only is this film sentimental garbage, but it's a complete misunderstanding of its source material which instead comes to an unnerving conclusion.
Winston Groom's original book was intended as a satire, with Forrest going through major historical events and meeting historical figures but having no appreciation, comprehension, and most importantly, effect on anything that happens. Forrest is a highly reactionary character. The idea of doing what you're told and never questioning your surroundings or examining your life is the joke in the book. In the movie, it's the moral.
Think if someone had tried to adapt Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" like that. Instead of a movie about Ireland's famine, you'd have a movie about eating children. Granted, that would be more entertaining, but if directed by Robert Zemeckis, it would be without a hint of irony.
But beyond the misunderstanding of the book, the juxtaposition between Forrest and Jenny is where the film gets truly offensive. Forrest doesn't question his life. He flatly tells it to strangers, but does so without commentary, emotion, and understanding. Forrest tells Jenny at one point, "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is," Apparently that's the only emotion Forrest was able to comprehend. Granted, he does show emotions in dealing with people, but he's totally wooden and unfeeling when faced with the outside world.
Now compare this with Jenny who doesn't do what she's told. Jenny, like a human being, makes mistakes. She has no clear pathway because she's trying to figure out life for herself rather than being directed to Vietnam, then to a shrimp boat, and then to being so unaware that she runs the length of the nation for no reason. Jenny's reward for being human: death.
And this is all ignoring the sentimental garbage the film throws at you, from Alan Silestri's manipulative score to that crap with the floating feather. It may sound like I'm throwing more hate at this film than it deserves and I'm just a cold-hearted bastard and while that second part may be true, I believe that a richer film experience comes from thinking about a film and the reward of working to understand its themes and ideas. Films don't have to be simplistic to be uplifting.
Forrest Gump was a box-office smash, won six Academy Awards including Best Picture (beating out superior films like the other films nominated in every category), and is currently ranked #76 on the AFI's Top 100 Films of the Last 100 Years.
Over / Under: OVERRATED!
Next Week: BASEketball